Innovative approach to dyke construction improves flood protection

Climate change causes the most diverse weather phenomena, including increasingly frequent and more serious flood events. In future, additional, stronger dykes will be needed in order to protect vulnerable areas. The Gütersloh-based company topocare GmbH has now developed an engineering solution which not only allows stronger dykes to be built, but also does so in a more sustainable and economically sound way, using geotextile tubes and a new kind of dyke construction machine. As a result of the reduced need for equipment, materials and space, this solution is cost-effective and also has a positive impact in terms of climate protection.

It is not always possible to renaturalise areas to protect them from flooding. This may be for reasons of time, space or financial cost. Dykes are therefore still needed to provide effective protection – both in the long term and in emergency situations. At the same time, they need to be built and operated in a way that is as sustainable as possible, conserving resources and keeping them in harmony with nature.

Dykes made from soil-filled geotextile tubes

As the key element of its dykes, topocare GmbH uses soil-filled geotextile tubes (known as topotubes) and a new kind of tube-laying machine, known as the topomover. The geotextile tubes, which have a diameter of between 50 and 100 cm, can be stacked up in the shape of pyramids and thus form the core of the dyke. The benefits compared to previous methods of dyke construction are numerous: the tubes can be filled with all the soil materials available on site – nothing needs to be specially brought in from elsewhere. Water cannot pass through the tubes, they cannot be washed away and they can be deployed on difficult surfaces. They can provide effective protection against flooding using only limited space and a limited height. This means that the material and space required can be reduced by up to 45 per cent compared to a conventional dyke. Not only can the geotextile tubes be utilised as a structural element in dykes and dams, they can also be used for rainwater retention basins and in land reclamation.

Engine for progress:

  • Innovative engineering solution from NRW
  • This more sustainable solution is economically sound
  • Prevents damage at a limited cost
  • Can be used for a range of applications

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Photo: topocare GmbH

In order to guarantee an optimum protective structure, numerous photos of the area at risk of flooding are taken using a drone and automatically merged into a 3D map. The procedure is called photogrammetry and allows the developers to create a clear picture of the landscape on their computers – without risking their own safety.

Innovative tube-laying machine provides economic benefits

One of the key innovative elements of topocare GmbH’s solution is the topomover: a dyke-building machine that fills and lays the tubes on site. It was developed in the course of a joint ZIM project funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs (ZIM is the Central Innovation Programme for SMEs, a national funding programme for small and medium-sized companies and the research institutes that work with them in the field of business-oriented research). The machine lays about 150 metres of one-metre wide tubes per hour. It can lay tubes at a depth of up to two metres and at a height of three metres. It is only in combination with this tailor-made installation system that the sustainable geotextile tubes are commercially viable.

Intensive and successful field trials

In order to research the benefits and limits of the new system, the geotextile tubes are being tested under various conditions. There are general testing grounds for this purpose, for example at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences. In addition, large-scale trials are being carried out at bends in rivers and underwater tests are being run. Amongst other applications, the tubes are being tested for their suitability as breakwaters or for creating shallow water zones. So far, the topotubes have proved successful under these different real-life conditions.

Autonomous dyke construction robot

Furthermore, in the course of the TAMMOS research project in collaboration with FHDW Paderborn University of Applied Sciences, topocare GmbH is also investigating new options for setting up mobile flood barriers (TAMMOS is the German acronym for “semiautonomous machines and logistics for mobile flood protection”; the project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research). The project partners are currently developing a robot, known as the topoRobo, which can enter risk areas on its own and set up a flood barrier using sand-filled geotextile tubes. In addition, small support units (called topoAnts) are being developed to provide the tube-laying machine with a constant supply of sand. Before using this equipment, the area of application is photographed by drones and the photos are transformed into a 3D map. The equipment allows temporary dykes to be laid, for example, in emergency situations when people are not allowed to enter the area.

Video: topocare TV

Photo: topocare GmbH

“We have been able to optimally demonstrate our capabilities over the course of this research project. It may take some time before flood protection will work autonomously in real life. But many partial results can already be implemented: the simulation of flood protection measures (logistics and assembly) is of interest to many municipalities, for example. The machines will also make it possible to rapidly install protective measures, manually at first.”

Roland Draier, Managing Director of topocare GmbH

Partners and sponsors

Partners: Sponsors:
  • Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)